When Da'Sean Butler is at his best, West Virginia is very tough to beat. Never has that statement been more spot-on than it was on Friday night. Butler, playing on an injured ankle, poured in a career-high 34 points to lead WVU to a blowout win over No. 13 Villanova by a final of 93-72.
The junior forward hit 12 of his 23 shot attempts, including six of 13 from three-point range. He also did an excellent job of getting to and executing from the foul line, knocking down 13 of his 15 free throws en route to the banner win for WVU.
"I'm just happy we won, honestly," Butler said with an ear-to-ear grin after the nationally-televised win over the Wildcats. "I mean, granted the points are great and everything and I'm happy I got that, but I'm just glad that we have a chance to start a streak now. We've got Notre Dame coming in on Wednesday."
Ironically, the career night came on the heels of what was probably the worst game of Butler's career. In Monday night's loss at fourth-ranked Pitt, Butler made just two of his 12 field goal attempts, scored four points, did not attempt a free throw and did not record a rebound before fouling out. That game, though, was just a blip on the radar for a player who has been amongst the Big East's best for much of the season. Prior to the Pitt game, he had scored at least 20 points in six straight games for WVU. Thus, it was just a matter of time before he turned in a night such as this.
"I have been waiting for (a big game from Butler), honestly," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "He does it in practice. He does a great job of reading screens and our guys are getting better at getting him the ball."
After not scoring for the game's first four minutes, Butler got hot over the final 16 minutes of the first half. By the 10 minute mark, he had 13 points. By the time WVU entered the locker room with a commanding 52-34 lead, he was only four shy of his career-high total of 28, set earlier this season in a win over Miami of Ohio.
Aiding Butler's effort was the fact that the Mountaineers were playing almost flawlessly as a team on offense against Villanova's frustrating full-court pressure defense. For the most part, WVU did not panic and instead attacked the press when given the opportunity to do so. By attacking and moving the ball unselfishly, the Mountaineers were able to free up Butler for open looks.
"We got some easy baskets against their pressure," Huggins noted. "I thought we did a real good job in handling their pressure."
Even when West Virginia went cold to start the second half, Villanova wasn't much better. The Wildcats were never able to trim the deficit to less than 13 points, even with Butler and his teammates misfiring on the other end. When WVU finally settled in over the final 20 minutes, there was virtually nothing Villanova could do to get back in the game.
"Obviously we didn't do a lot of things well and I don't want to take away from what West Virginia did because they were just great," said veteran Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "They got into us and they really pressured our perimeter people and the way we can usually take that away is Dante Cunningham."
Cunningham, though, was ineffective for virtually the entire night. The Wildcats' leading scorer picked up a pair of quick offensive fouls early in the first half and did not play again until the outset of the second half. He finished with seven points, six rebounds and four turnovers.
"I thought after (Cunningham's two fouls) we really didn't have an answer for their pressure," Wright admitted. "Their length on the perimeter is great, their pressure was great and usually our answer for that is to go into Dante. We tried some other guys, we just didn't get it done. You need to give their defense credit."
Corey Fisher led the Wildcats with 17 points, while Corey Stokes chipped in 15 for VU, which saw its six-game winning streak snapped with Friday's loss. The 72 points were also the lowest total in four games for Villanova, which had scored at least 90 points in three straight games entering Friday.
Devin Ebanks recorded a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds for WVU, while John Flowers added nine points off the bench.
The story of the night, though, was obviously Butler, who became the first WVU player to score at least 40 points since Lowes Moore did so against Notre Dame in 1978.
"He did it every way," Wright said. "He did it on the offensive glass, on curls off screens, one-on-one. He did it running in the lane. He's just great."
Never more so than on Friday.